When the 2014 Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon rolled ever closer into town, I still had not volunteered to help. I kept thinking maybe they would have a half price deal and I could still run it or that maybe I could get a cushy job working up close with racers in the corals and then be free to roam and enjoy. I really wanted to see the concert with Phillip Phillips, but I still had not committed to anything.
The Savannah Striders were working a two day shift at the International Trade Center, but I was working a regular job during that time and could not afford to take off, so resigned myself to working the information booth in the early morning on the day of the race, but kept holding back from signing up.
I really did not want to stand under a tent doing what I do all day at my regular paid job; helping people and signing them up and pointing them in the right direction. What I really wanted to do was work in the medical team assisting runners, but they were asking for hospital and EMT volunteers to do that and I guessed my three semesters of sports injury and rehabilitation and a few classes in nutrition and epidemiology didn’t quite make me the expert, so didn’t even go that route, but still I wanted something more exciting that I would really enjoy doing, not just do out of obligation.
Two weeks before the race I volunteered to do media relations the Saturday before. I had no idea what this was when I signed up for it, but it was different. I envisioned us going to some central location and handing out information on the event.
It turned out to be putting “Do not park here on race day” flyers on all the cars parked around the race route! Still it was not bad. I managed to be volunteer smart and avoid a lady who was overly talkative and filling up on donuts and volunteered for my own route up and down E. Broad Street which turned into a sweet 45 minute assignment as there were hardly any cars parked there to begin with. I even felt kind of guilty taking a free T-shirt for it and figured I really needed to volunteer for race day, but still did not want to stand around dealing with crowds of people complaining and expecting me to solve all their problems as if I had caused them to begin with.
About five days before the race, I ran into Bob Skiljan, a fellow Strider and bicyclist who asked if I knew any cyclists who would want to help with the bike brigade at the RnR race. I asked if I qualified.
“Can you ride at least a 15 mile per hour pace?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, having no clue how fast I could pedal but figuring I could keep pace with a runner doing a five minute mile on the flat and figured since the course was mostly flat by northern standards (southerners think anything over a three percent grade is a ‘hill’) I should be okay.
“Just don’t put me anywhere important,” I added. I really did not want to mess anything up.
It took a day or two to get the word that I was on the team. We were to meet at Great Dane Trailers on West Bay at 5:50 a.m. the day of the race which was to start at 7 a.m. sharp.
I debated what to wear, what to pack, what to carry, what route I would take to get there (a lot of the roads were closed to traffic at 5:30 a.m.), even what sunglasses to wear and what time I needed to wake up to get there on time. I always make myself more nervous than I need to be, but hate being late or unprepared.
That night I ate light when I got off work and laid out all my things by the door. I had to get dressed, feed the animals and pack the bike in the truck before leaving, so gave myself plenty of time for error.
Getting there was a breeze until I got past Jones Street on MLK and traffic was blocked all the way to Liberty.
As the minutes ticked by and the traffic stood still, I tried hard not to panic. I would get there; I just needed to be patient… come on traffic, move it!!! Ugh!!!
I had brought a granola bar to eat in the truck so munched on it while waiting, but it made me a bit ill, .
Finally I was able to get around traffic in the right hand lane and head left to Louisville Road and over to East Lathrop only to find police officers blocking off the entrance to Great Dane.
I maneuvered through the cones and explained I was there to meet other cyclists, none of which were there yet. I could just see myself getting arrested by running through a police barricade.
“You can park here, but you won’t be able to get out until after the race,” the jovial officer beamed.
“No problem,” I beamed back as I pulled into a parking slot facing the Talmadge bridge.
It was 5:40 and I wondered if I was in the wrong location. A few minutes later another car pulled up, then another and another.
Two fellows, Ed and Jeff or Ted and Jeff, were unloading bikes as I took my own out the truck and began transferring Gatorade gels, water bottle, camera, gloves, flashlight rubber banded on the handle bars and stuffed my jacket pocket with Kroger Kleenex in anticipation of the ever running nose in cool weather. Some people have allergies to the pollen. I think I have allergies to the cold.
The temperature wasn’t that bad. One website had it as 42, another 46. It was cold enough to be chilly, but not enough to hurt bare skin. It actually felt good.
Soon more cyclists arrived, some actually biking their way in from their homes as once again I felt outclassed and wondered if I would be able to keep up with them.
Thankfully, Great Dane allowed us access to their restrooms, which by the way, were quite nice and made my own bathroom at home look dumpy.
Bob handed out passes and we zip tied ALL ACCESS flyers to the front of our handlebars and set out over the viaduct on Bay Street: my luck to have to climb up a steep hill the first thing out. It felt like my heart was going to pound out my throat and I was gulping air and pedaling as hard as my legs would pedal, but I was still falling far behind.
Luckily I caught up on the downhill portion and as we arrived closer to Bull Street, pedestrian traffic became so dense that everyone had to slow down further, so that benefited me!
I noticed that even though I was pedaling the same pace as everyone around me, they were still going faster. I noticed this when I kayaked too and wondered if they were more aerodynamically sound or I was just not putting enough power into the pedal/paddle, but it is always disconcerting as I feel like such a wimp even though I am trying as hard as anyone else. Oh well, the day was not about me and I was not out to win a race, so let’s just sing the theme song to Frozen and move on… let it go…
A lady or a man… I forget which (I know, those powers of observation that make a reporter great, right?), handed us a sheet of assignments and Bob said he wanted me going out with the lead group, so as the national anthem was coming to a close, off we went, about seven cyclists following a lead car.
I had a vague idea that I was supposed to follow the lead females in the half marathon, but it seemed the lead riders were actually supposed to help the guys in the car that were driving around dropping lime green or yellow cones (again those powers of observation) on potential pot holes and dips in the pavement to warn runners to steer clear.
This went well for all of about thirty seconds before the guy in the car pulled out a megaphone and bellowed, “why are all you people following me. I was only assigned three of you…”
No one spoke up and he bellowed again and asked who was supposed to be there. To be honest I wasn’t sure and no one seemed to be dropping back, so I did, thinking at least he would stop yelling at us.
Two other cyclists dropped back just a bit as the lead male runner started to catch up with the lead car and I focused my attention off the grumpy man and onto the race.
About two minutes after the lead men came two women running together, one in orange shorts and a gray top. I remember this because I kept repeating it over and over.
The other cyclists said to be careful not to focus so much on headgear and clothing as runners will often discard an outer shirt or pull off a cap and disappear into the crowd with other runners, so I figured the lead lady was likely to keep her shorts on if nothing else.
The pace was fast and two riders took up the male leads and a female rider took up to top two females, so I stayed back a little and struggled again to get up another hill and over a rough set of railroad tracks.
I kept looking for half marathon females and finally spotted two running side by side.
They stayed together for about the first three miles and then the one female dropped back and kept falling further behind.
I stayed with the other woman who was wearing a coral pink sports bra and black skin tight shorts. She had a muscular body and she kept an even pace the whole way through, even going up and down hills where I slowed down and sped up. She managed to pass a few males and still kept the same steady pace.
I tried to stay a little far back so as not to irritate her, but had to dodge more than one photographer squatting in the middle of the road and at the first water stop it was actually kind of scary as there were only three runners and me and about 50 water cup holders who narrowed the two lane street to less than one lane and made riding and running a bit perilous with no room for error.
I only hoped, when the massive crowds ran through that the water bearers gave them a bit more room to squeeze through, but kept my critical thoughts to myself and remarked how enthusiastic they were but almost a bit pushy and upset that the woman running did not want to take a drink just yet. It was almost like they got their feelings hurt because she passed them by!
We ran (well, I rode) another mile, where a group of cheer leaders and a band performed and on we went.
There were kids and adults in costumes and pajamas, waving and clapping and cheering and saying, “come on you can do it…” I think the woman knew that! It was like they expected her to run faster because they were cheering her, but true to form she kept the same pace.
When we came by another band playing snappy music I picked up the pace and went on ahead for just a bit, but dropped back and followed once again I felt a bit like a secret service agent guarding the president and thanked the Lord and Bob that I was able to do this and have so much fun and see the course and hear the bands without actually running or having to pay half a week’s salary to enter the race.
At the next water stop my runner got a cup of water, avoiding the Gatorade. About mid route she picked up a packet of GU. By now her tan legs were starting to glow red and her back was covered in a sheen of sweat, but her pace never altered.
Off Anderson, we hit a few tight turns on brick pavement that made me focus on my own bike skills a bit and I sped up and aimed right for a wayward street crosser to prevent him from running into the path of my runner. That felt good!!! The power of the wheel…
I thought about putting on my sunglasses as we headed into the sun, but it was still a bit dark and the glasses were really strong, so just pulled the brim of my helmet low and that sufficed.
About two thirds of the way through the race, someone called out, way to go Morgan. I now knew my runner’s name, which turned out to be Morgan Van Gorder who ran a 6:08 minute mile pace. Everyone kept telling her she was the second place woman before we reached the finish line, but I knew two other women were ahead of her, still another dozen or so people kept yelling, “congratulations, you are the second female runner as she ran past,” which lead me to wonder if the other woman had dropped out or maybe I had gotten it wrong, but I wondered if Morgan was as tired as I was of hearing them refer to her as the “female” runner, as if she was a rarity rather than just a running competitor.
A newspaper photographer near the finish line asked me if she was number two. I help up three fingers. I don’t know if he believed me or not, but I felt like I had at least served some sort of purpose rather than stalking the third place female runner for 13 miles when I probably should have been doing something else.
I accidentally got into the finishing chute, which is a series of white metal gates with no gaps and there was no way I could turn back.
Bob had told us to turn off before we got to Drayton, but I figured the barriers were to keep us out of Forsyth Park, not part of the finish line chute and was not aware of it until I saw the actually finish line. I hate when I do things like that, but to be honest I had not even paid attention to what street I was on and thought we had another half mile to go.
Luckily a very kind man helped me haul my bike over the railing and together we tugged the gates open enough for me to squeeze through.
I still felt like riding so went back up Bull to try to rejoin the race, but by the time I got to it, the streets were so packed, there would have been no way I could pedal in that crowd without running over someone or having them run over me, so just watched and again felt guilty that I had only worked a little over an hour, whereas the normal volunteer is in it for four or five hours.
I did redeem myself by parking out near East Broad and directing runner’s friends and relatives toward Forsyth Park where the race finished, but despite sitting out on the course for nearly a half hour, I did not see a soul I recognized so decided to sneak down a blocked ally and head back to the park near the letter H where the Striders were supposed to gather.
When I got there nearly 20 Striders had already finished the half marathon and relay and were stretching and telling tales and waiting for the marathoners to come in with their old man walks and frowned up faces reminding me once again why I am fine just sticking to five and ten kilometer races most of the year!
Still, it is amazing what you can push your body to do that you don’t think it is capable of doing and for most runners, the accomplishment of finishing is worth a little pain and discomfort.
Some former Striders arrived from Atlanta and Florida to run the race and it was like a family reunion as everyone caught up with everyone else.
Janice and Tony Rodriguez had arrived from Atlanta and ran with physical therapists from Shepherd Medical Center who had helped their son Sean as he was recovering from an automobile accident and learning to live with life in a wheelchair. The two had moved to California a few years ago until Sean, who was attending Georgia Southern, needed their help and they all moved back to Atlanta where they had originally come before joining the Savannah Striders and starting a running club in California as well who still wished them well in their endeavors in life and in running.
Ivan Levinrad, who trained a number of Striders for the first Rock n Roll marathon was there also with his wife and son and his son’s girlfriend so it really was like one big family and everyone was excited about Phillip Phillips playing live on stage, though Cranford Hollow, the band before them was pretty good themselves and well worth a listen with one song specifically written about Savannah and the invasion of Sherman which drew a lot of listeners attention away from talking and toward the band.
There was of course plenty of free beer and lots of goodies including bananas, bagels, energy gels, chocolate milk, pretzels and Gatorade, and runners wrapped in reflective plastic blankets laid out all along the grassy park making it look a bit more like a disaster scene at a refuge camp than an after party, but it was almost entertaining to see people try to stand up after laying down for so long. Proving once again that it is more prudent to keep moving after a race than to sit still!
A lot of people think people who run distances are crazy in the head, but there is something about pushing yourself physically and mentally that gives you hope, encourages faith and resiliency.
I am glad I did not run the race this year, though I would have if I had a free entry to the half. Still, it was fun to be a part of it and to feel official riding my bike along the course with my Rock n Roll cyclist badge that allowed me full access to the event as well a free food and drink.
I only saw one other cyclist on the way back and was once again reminded of how dangerous it is to ride your bike in Savannah without a police escort to block traffic.
It is amazing how many people try to run you off the road, pull out in front of you or speed past you with only five inches to spare between you and their door frame and one inch to spare between you and the side mirrors. It was good to get back to Great Dane in one piece and take a photo of the giant dog statue in front before loading up and heading home.
More and more I am finding that volunteering can be rewarding if you pick and choose the right people to work with and the right assignments. This is one of the few volunteer events where I truly had fun and enjoyed it more than if I had been participating in the event itself.
Who really needs another medal anyway to collect dust and weigh down a wooden pegboard. It is nice to have something to show for your efforts, but it’s even nicer to feel like your efforts mattered.
I guess I could have stayed home and lamented not having the money to run the race with friends but it was nice to be able to get out on the course with them and see all the bands and cheering crowds and volunteers and well wishers and watch the excitement of the crowd at the music concert afterward.
We even got to see an Olympic runner from Mexico and his brother and someone spotted a drone flying above the crowd taking picture, so we’d love to find our more about that!
There was never a dull moment and it is kind of miraculous how so many people worked so hard to make sure things went smoothly and everyone stayed safe on the course and had a great time afterward. It just doesn’t get much better than that and I am very blessed to have had an opportunity to take part in it and look forward to doing it again next year if I don’t decide to run it… we shall see…
For a full list of all the runners and their times, check out: http://running.competitor.com/cgiresults?eId=45&eiId=222 and don’t forget to volunteer. It is a great way to get out and see what is going on and meet new people and good friends and enjoy a free concert with a few thousand others.